A Mother

  At 16 I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up: a mother. Oh, there were many other dreams – a veterinarian, a navy pilot, a teacher, owning a dance school or art studio. The dreams swirled beautifully from my youthful mind, changing like the winds. But one part remained constant-my desire to be a mother. I imagined a big family, full of children I had borne and children who finally found a home with me. This big, beautiful, blended family was colorful and loud with many languages. And it was all mine. Every one of them had my eyes. Although we didn’t look alike, we all saw love in the world – they had my eyes. This was my dream.

Life had very different plans for me. I got married, and believed I was on my way to my dream family. All I wanted was to be a mother, to give him a child, many children. After a short time it became evident that we no longer shared the same dream of family. That dissolution of my dream struck me hard and left me merely a shell. I was no longer the woman he’d married, I no longer saw him as the man I chose. We lived in sadness until we could live that way no more. All I wanted was to be a mother. I was simply alone, unfulfilled.

In time, I met someone new and my dream rose to the surface again. We happily planned for the future and talked of a family. My joy returned. But, the dream was not to be. Not all things are meant to be forever. Once again I was left to live as a shell, empty.

As I slowly healed and the years passed, I decided my desire to be a mother was greater than my need for a partner. I believed I was strong enough to do it on my own. With renewed passion I set out to be a mom. I spent months doing research and making plans. I bought a house, finished grad school, got a promotion at work – everything was coming into place. I started interviewing adoption agencies and attended meetings and support groups. With a deep breath and a shaky hand I filled out the applications and paid the fees and started my journey to becoming a mother. I was ecstatic…and scared. Months passed. There were phone calls and fees and background checks and time passing and fees and meetings and requests and fees and demands and letters.  Oh, the letters. That one letter. The one that said ‘they’ had determined that I was inadequate to be a mother. I did not meet their exemplar of a good parent. I was deemed ‘not good enough.’

There it was in black and white. Neatly typed, a copy kept in my official file. “Inadequate.” The word stuck in my throat. In my mind. In my gut. In my heart. I was not a shell this time. Even the shell was broken by these words. I’d met their demands. I’d paid their fees. I’d jumped through their hoops. I had a home, a good job, a stable life. But, I was inadequate. I was broken in every way imaginable.I buried my dream that day, deeply.


Life is always changing and many years later, after ups and downs, I had the opportunity to try once more to achieve my dream. With my new partner in life, I started out on yet another journey. This one lasted more than two years. More than two years of doctors and medicines and shots and pills and tests and scans and elation and disappointment after disappointment. After more than 15 years of sorrow and longing this journey brought amazing highs and devastating lows. More than once I watched during an ultrasound as my doctor’s face changed from a smile to something I learned to fear. That stoic look. The clenched jaw as she was trying not to weep for me. The lack of eye contact for just a little too long. The deep breath before she utters the words “I’m sorry.” The first time was hard. The second time was gut-wrenching. The third time – the third time nearly broke me. It had been 10 weeks. I had heard the heartbeat. I said ‘no more.’ I had no strength. No hope left. I wanted the pain to end.

Thankfully my doctor checked in with me a few weeks after my D&C. She asked me not to give up yet, to try ‘just once more.’ I said no but went back to her office eventually, after taking 6 months to heal my heart and find my hope again. This last try is where my real story begins. Nearly 20 years after my dream cemented itself in my heart.

It was a messy start for us, but after just a week in NICU my son was strong enough to come home and I could finally start my journey as a mom. Finally – I am a mom. It was my every desire. It was hard. I cried. I failed. I tried and tried again. I laughed and then cried some more. But it was always perfect. Messy and crazy and broken and perfect. I looked at my child and knew I was meant to be his mom. Nothing had ever felt so right.

We’ve had many ups and downs over the 12 years we’ve known each other. We’ve navigated our way through ADHD, sensory processing struggles, Asperger’s, occupational therapies, anxiety, minor health challenges, and dietary inconveniences. But we’ve found our path together. As a young child, he struggled daily to feel comfortable in the world that surrounded him. I read and studied and asked questions and then watched my child to learn how to help him. We met those challenges together. Sometimes I was the guiding voice to lead him out of his darkness. Sometimes all I could do was hold him until he found peace again. Sometimes I could only watch, never far away, so he knew I was there when he was ready to take my hand. He was my storm, I was his calm. We were a team. We held tight to each other through all the ups and downs, including changes to our family. By the time he was four we had gone from a family, to a single mom and her son trying to make it all work. It was hard. I cried. I failed. I tried and tried again. But through it all I knew I was meant to be his mom.

As tough as my journey has been sometimes, it happened just the way it was supposed to. I was the mom he needed. I would not have been that mom when I was 22. I would not have had the patience and understanding we needed to be a good team. As angry as I was at the adoption agencies, I would not have this boy who has changed my life if I’d started my family sooner. As heartbreaking as the miscarriages were, I would not have the deep appreciation for every day with my boy that I do now. I sometimes mourn for the big family I do not have, but I would not have had the time and energy to be what he needed if he had siblings. This was the journey we were supposed to take together.

We’re entering another big phase of our journey – pre-teen. I was very comfortable when he was younger saying that I was the mom he needed. We were a good fit. As he gets older and our challenges change, I do not feel so confident as his mom. This time it’s my turn to struggle most in our relationship. It feels messier. Many days I feel lost. Years ago I would get to the end of the day and cry out of exhaustion. These days the tears come from frustration and confusion. We’re still a good team. I wouldn’t have it any other way. We’ll find our way through this part, too. It’s what we do. He’s my boy. I am his mom.





(All art in this post is by Mary Cassatt 5/22/1884 – 6/14/1926)

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